In His Steps Lives On

“Mr. Neighbors, I’m the pastor of a church in Ohio. One of the members of my congregation saw your performance of In His Steps last weekend and their life has been changed. . .”

“I’m a missionary, home on furlough. When I came into the church tonight I had determined that I would not be going back to the mission field. But after seeing your presentation of In His Steps . . .I know now that I have to go back. . .”

Comments like these and others too numerous to mention are not at all unusual after people have come in contact with the story told in Charles Sheldon’s Christian classic. In His Steps. This year marks the 100th anniversary of this book that is credited with being one of the best selling books of all time. It has been translated in many languages and while no one knows the exact number it is estimated by some sources that there have been over 30 million copies sold. Few books have had a stronger impact on Christians in this century than In His Steps.

Since 1984 I have been performing a one-man drama adapted from the book. Having given over 600 performances throughout North America it has been a privilege to hear countless stories of how people have been influenced by this powerful book. Many pastors and missionaries have stated that reading In His Steps was pivotal in their decision to go into the ministry. Even after 100 years it is still amazingly relevant to our world today. It has been made into a movie, more than one play, retold in updated versions, adapted for children, and the theme of numerous Bible studies on Christian growth and discipleship through the years.

In His Steps is a work of fiction written at a time when Christian fiction was not nearly as popular as it is today. The story is of a group of Christians that take on a one year pledge to always ask themselves “What would Jesus do?” before every decision or action that they take–and then to follow through on that basis. The book leaves the reader to wrestle with that decision in real life. What would the world be like if we all lived this kind of radical Christian discipleship? While at first glance it may seem simplistic it quickly becomes complex when applied to real life circumstances. My own experience in adapting this book into a live theatrical production is but one example.

My Story

I’d been acting professionally for 10 years. I felt blessed to be able to make a living in a vocation that boasts something like a 95% unemployment rate and for most of my career I’ve been able to do this in the context of ministry. As a youth I felt a deep desire not only to act but also a desire, “a calling,” if you will, to full time Christian ministry. I considered it a gift from God that I was able to fulfill “the desire of my heart” in a ministry that also enabled me to pursue my passion for theatre.

I met my wife, Lorie, while we were touring together with a repertory theater company. After over 9 years with this company we were feeling it was time for a change. These feelings, we are convinced, were God directed. We were also at a place in our lives were we wanted to start a family and the desire to “nest” was strong, especially for Lorie. The road life to which we had become accustomed would no longer be an option.

But a change to what? Acting was my life. It was the only thing that I really knew how to do–the only thing I wanted to do. I was also determined that I would stay true to my calling and active in ministry. The reality of providing for a family and leaving what little job security I had with the repertory company was frightening to me, to say the least.

It was against this backdrop, on an evening in December in 1983, that God used In His Steps to transform my life. I had read the book a number of years earlier but it was certainly not on my mind when I went to bed that night. Call it a dream, call it a vision, or even something that I’d eaten for dinner–but “it” awoke me at about 3:00 am. My mind was abuzz with a “concept” of doing In His Steps as a one-man drama.

What you need to understand is that this was not an idea that I was immediately excited about. True, I was an actor, but I had no desire to perform solo–quite the contrary. I rather enjoyed acting in an ensemble. The idea of mounting a one-man show terrified me. I had all kinds of “excuses” as to why I could not do this. Not the least of which was: Who was going to write the script? I was not a writer–in fact, I detested every writing assignment I had ever received in school. The who, what, where, when, how and whys were overwhelming.

After some struggling and prayer, I finally yielded to the Lord and began to implement the very concept of In His Steps: “What would Jesus do?” into the situation. Upon surrender to His will all the obstacles began to be removed as the way I was to proceed became clear. After trying unsuccessfully to find someone else to write the script I finally said to God: “Lord, if this is really what you want me to do, then I’ll (hard swallow). . . give it a try.” (Not exactly a prayer bursting with conviction.) I sat down with the book and to my amazement it all became clear. I knew how to do this. What I had feared the most was no longer an obstacle. I wrote the script during the first few months of 1984, then began learning the lines and rehearsing. We resigned from the repertory company effective in May and I gave the first public performance of In His Steps in June. That first year I performed the play over 100 times!

I discovered that God had been preparing me for this moment for years. One of the benefits of our years in the repertory company was developing a good business sense. Not only was I able to do the job artistically, but Lorie and I together were able to do the other tasks necessary to make this venture work. Between us we would be booking agent, bookkeeper, secretary and travel agent.

We named the ministry Master’s Image Productions, in a spin-off of the In His Steps theme. The ministry is now into its twelfth year. The Lord has greatly blessed and the ministry continues to grow. We now offer five other one-man shows, but In His Steps is by far the most requested. It has been featured nationally on The Moody Broadcasting Network, “The Chapel of the Air” and the “You Need To Know” television program.

The lessons that I have learned through this adventure are parallel to those the characters experience in the book. Following “in His steps” is not always easy. It involves struggle, sacrifice and sometimes doing things that we don’t want to do. But I firmly believe God will not challenge us beyond our capacity. Sure we have gone through difficult times and often bounce back and forth between feast and famine but it has also been the most rewarding thing that I have ever done with my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. There is no better feeling than when we are in His will, following in His steps. Sometimes those things that we think we like the least we learn to love. (I actually enjoy writing now.)

The Book Lives On

Having survived this long, it is no question In His Steps is an inspirational book that has truly earned the honor of being called a classic. An interesting side note is that Charles Sheldon, due to a faulty copyright, received almost no royalties for this work. Imagine writing one of the best sellers in history and missing out on all those royalty checks. It’s obvious he didn’t write the book for the money.

Through response at my performances I can see clearly that God is not finished with In His Steps yet. I have seen entire congregations model the challenge by standing together at the end of a performance and taking on the pledge of “What would Jesus do?” In subsequent conversations with the pastors of these churches there have always been indications of spiritual growth in the lives of those who participated. Sometimes the response is more personal rather than corporate. I cherish the words of those who have shared with me their stories of personal conviction and life change after reading the book or seeing the play.

Occasionally there are those who don’t seem to handle the challenge too well. One lady was quite upset with me after a performance–she couldn’t believe that I would actually suggest that we should put following Jesus ahead of our family, career, etc. She missed the point that if we put Him first these other things will not be neglected but rather fall right into place. There are others who speak to me dejectedly, “I’ve tried to follow but I just can’t do it,” they say. I ache for them to understand that the trying is what matters to Jesus–not whether or not we succeed or fail! Lastly, there are those who simply don’t want to deal with the challenge. They will compliment my performance and say wouldn’t it be nice if. . . It may be an over used cliche, but it is still true–not to decide is to decide.

I am grateful that Charles Sheldon was led of the Lord to write this wonderful book! In recognition of this 100th anniversary of In His Steps I urge you to read (or reread) the book. It has a message that we need to hear now perhaps even more than when it was first written. Let the book affect your life. Try out the pledge–if a year is too much try a month or a week–even a day. But a warning–you may never be the same again!

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